5 Hair-raising Activities for Your Halloween English Lesson

“Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

We often hear these famous words uttered during Halloween, but do you know where they actually came from? Originally, they were spoken by the witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Creepy creatures, goblins and ghouls are just some of the things you can talk about in Halloween ESL classes. There are lots of other spooky stories and activities you can use to bring this holiday into the classroom.

Use our Halloween activities to give your students a fright while improving their English at the same time.

Why Seasonal Lessons Are Great for ESL Students

Every time a holiday rolls around, it’s a chance to do something different in your classroom. If you switch up your usual routine of classes for some fun ESL activities, your students will certainly enjoy the change of pace. You can also teach them about other cultures and traditions.

Even though some of your learners may not celebrate Halloween, learning about the holiday can help them to understand and appreciate it. This is particularly valuable if they’re planning to study or travel to the United States, where Halloween is a larger-than-life holiday.

Get Spooky with These 5 Hair-raising Halloween English Lesson Ideas

Stuck for ideas for your Halloween English lessons? Here are some ideas to help get you started.

1. Ghosts and Superstitions

It wouldn’t be Halloween if you didn’t tell a few ghost stories. You can use these to have a great conversation lesson.

Start by sharing a classic ghost story or a scary campfire story you heard as a child. If you need some inspiration, the Huffington Post has a list of terrifying ghost stories you can use. The first story on the list, “Cell Phone,” is ideal because it’s spooky and something we all can relate to. Chances are, every student has a mobile phone and can imagine something similar happening to theirs.

The second story, “Ghost Bro,” is longer with some more difficult vocabulary. This would be better for a more advanced class. This is a great story to use for helping students expand their vocabulary. Simply pre-teach challenging words in the story, like peripheral and briskly.

What’s more, different countries have their own variations of these stories, so this is the perfect opportunity to explore them. Ask your students to describe different ghost stories they know. If you want, you could even have them write them out and present them to the class.

Use this topic to lead into superstitions

Like ghost stories, superstitions are different around the world.

For example, in Japan, it’s bad luck to sleep with the head of your bed facing north. This is because that’s the position in which the dead are laid to rest. If you talk about superstitions like this with your students, they can practice their fluency through some interesting conversation while learning about different cultural beliefs, too.

You can even use these conversations as a chance to practice conditionals. Simply start by asking students to fill the blanks in the following sentence:

___ ____ see a black cat, ___ ____ have bad luck. 

They should give you the answer, “If you see a black cat, you will have bad luck.”

Explain that this is an example of the first conditional. Then, give out a worksheet with other superstitions listed in the same sentence structure.

The worksheet should be split into two halves. On the left, you should list the first part of each sentence, and on the right, have the other halves mixed up into random order. Then, have your class match the two halves in order to create the sentence.

Your list should include lots of different superstitions, including some that you’ve made up. This way, students can guess which ones are real and which ones are fake. At the end of the class, students can create their own.

2. Halloween Idioms

Idioms can be tricky to teach in ESL due to their unclear and indirect meanings, but bringing them into context makes all the difference. There are lots of English idioms to talk about fear, and Halloween is a great time to start using them

Here are just some examples of Halloween or fear-related idioms:

  • To have a skeleton in your closet.
  • To make your blood run cold.
  • To send a shiver down your spine.
  • To be scared stiff.

If you have an intermediate or advanced class, put these idioms on slips of paper and stick them on the walls all around the room. Put your students into pairs or small groups, then give them a worksheet listing the meaning of all the idioms. The groups will have to go around the room to find every idiom and try to match it to a meaning on their sheet. When they think they’ve got a match, they can write the idiom down in the correct box. At the end, go over the answers with the class.

You can use the “Idioms of Fear” video from BBC Learning English as an extra teaching tool for this activity. That way, you can really add context to each expression.

3. The History of Halloween

Your students have probably heard of Halloween, but do they know why we celebrate it? Teach them all about it with a reading comprehension lesson.

Provide a worksheet with a passage about the history of Halloween and how it’s celebrated.

History.com has a history of Halloween page you can use. Allow some time for your students to read through it, having them highlight any words or sentences they don’t understand as they read. And when they’re done, explain each word or expression to them and use them in sample sentences.

Here are some words and expressions from the passage that you can teach in the class:

  • Commemorate
  • Tradition
  • Costume
  • Bobbing for apples
  • Trick or treat

After that’s done, provide some questions on what they’ve read to make sure they understood it.

You can use Breaking News English’s 100 Halloween Questions to wrap up the class and give students a chance to practice speaking. Some of my favorite questions to get the students talking are:

  • What is the best Halloween food?
  • Where in the world do people have picnics by the graves of relatives?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?

4. Scary Story Telling

Writing stories is a good way to practice verb tenses and become comfortable with using descriptive adjectives. In this activity, you can give students a structured writing exercise that’s both fun and challenging at the same time.

First, ask your students to brainstorm Halloween vocabulary in groups.

Then, give out 15 small slips of paper to each group. Writing one word on each slip of paper, every group should have:

  • 5 slips with nouns
  • 5 slips with verbs
  • 5 slips with adjectives

These can be completely random.

Once all groups have written their words, collect their papers and switch them between groups, so each one has a new set of words. Together, each group must use these words, as well as some of the Halloween vocab they’ve written, to write a short story. At the end of the lesson, they can present their story to the class.

5. Halloween Crafts

Halloween lessons don’t always have to be about speaking English. They can also be a chance to simply have some fun. This is especially the case when you’re teaching kindergarten or primary school. Use this time to conduct some arts and crafts lessons. Teenagers and adult students might even enjoy them, too.

There are lots of different crafts you can try. Have your students carve jack-o-lanterns, make origami trick or treat bags, design their own costumes, or even cook some Halloween-themed treats. Parents.com has lots of Halloween craft ideas, and each one has an instructional video you can use for your class.

Not only will arts and crafts be a fun break from textbook activities, they can practice English by listening to your instructions. You can even quiz them on the instructions by asking them what to do and what not to do before beginning an activity!

Preparation Is Key

All of these activities require a certain amount of preparation.

If you go into your classroom empty-handed and unprepared, your students won’t get much out of your lesson. Instead of leaving lesson planning to the last minute, take some time to structure your activities and gather your materials in advance. That way, everything will run much more smoothly and both you and your students will enjoy the lesson more.

Planning pays off, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Use the resources given above and you can put together a great lesson in no time.

Emma Thomas is an ESL teacher in Bangkok with more than five years of experience in teaching students of all ages. You can read more about her experiences as a teacher in Thailand at Under the Ropes.

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